“Israel is occupation-addicted”: Israeli journalist Gideon Levy blasts U.S. support for “apartheid” & rise of fascism

by Ben Norton, Salon, March 18, 2016.

The renowned Israeli
journalist joined a host of experts at the 2016 Israel’s Influence conference
in D.C.

Israeli journalist
Gideon Levy speaking at the Israel’s Influence conference at the National Press
Club in Washington, D.C. on March 18, 2016
(Credit: Salon/Ben Norton)

“Israel is occupation-addicted,” said renowned Israeli journalist Gideon
Levy, a columnist for the leading Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

“The drug addict who is your friend, if you give him money, he will
really care about you. But are you really caring about him?” asked Levy, who
called Israel’s almost 50-year-old illegal military occupation of Palestinian
land “criminal,” “brutal” and “rotten.”

He was speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. for the
annual Israel’s Influence conference. The event, held on March
18, explored the close relationship between the American and Israeli
governments, and the impact it has on the rest of the Middle East.

The U.S. gives more than $3.1 billion in unconditional military aid to
the Israeli government every year. Israel is by far the largest recipient of
U.S. aid (Egypt comes in second, with $1.5 billion annually). And yet, in
protest of the U.S.’s nuclear deal with Iran, the Israeli government is pushing
for even more,
up to $4.5
in tax dollars per year.

“Every single thing the Israelis do today is with the total approval and
total financing of the United States,” Levy explained.

He criticized U.S. politicians, and particularly lawmakers, for their
ignorance of basic facts about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“Most American legislators know nothing, and what they know is a product
of” propaganda, Levy said.

He proposed giving U.S. politicians a tour of the occupied Palestinian
territories. Levy suggested that anyone who doubts that Israel oppresses the
indigenous Arab population should spend “just a few hours in Hebron,” a
Palestinian city (known in Arabic as al-Khalil) in the occupied West Bank.

“I’ve never met an honest human being who went to Hebron and didn’t come
back shocked,” he added.

In Hebron, illegal Israeli settlers live in the middle of the city.
Palestinians must travel on separate roads, which are patrolled by Israeli
soldiers. They often
walk under
enormous nets
that look like cages, and settlers drop objects — and
even urinate — on them from their windows above.

Levy described Israel’s occupation simply as a form of apartheid.
“It looks like apartheid, it walks like apartheid, it behaves like
apartheid; it’s apartheid,” he said.

He juxtaposed the conditions of Palestinians living under illegal
military occupation in Hebron to those of Israelis just one hour away in the
large Israeli city Tel Aviv.

“There’s not one single American legislator who can imagine himself what
it means to live as a Palestinian under the occupation,” Levy continued. “He
cannot imagine one day of the humiliation, of the danger, of the lack of hope.”

“As long as this is the case, the chances for hope are so small.”

Escalating violence

The Israel’s Influence conference is organized by the nonprofit
foundation the American Educational Trust and the Institute for Research:
Middle Eastern Policy.

Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of the peace group Code Pink, told Salon
that the conference is based on meetings her organization had organized in the
past. In early March, Code Pink held a similar event, the 2016 Summit on Saudi
Arabia, which explored Saudi influence in U.S. politics and called into
question the U.S. relationship with the theocratic absolute monarchy, which
funds and
exports extremism
throughout the world. Salon reported on
this summit
as well.

Levy lit up the room with his lighthearted yet somber assessment of the
situation in Israel-Palestine.

“Life in Palestine now is the cheapest ever,” he explained in the
keynote address. “Never was it so cheap, never was it so easy to kill

For Palestinians in the West Bank, which Israel has illegally occupied
since 1967, violence has become a part of everyday life under military
occupation. In recent months, however, this violence has greatly accelerated.
Since October 2015, approximately 180 Palestinians have be killed, along with
around 30 Israelis. Almost every day, there is yet another story of yet another

Every few years, Israel wages a war with the Palestinian militant group
Hamas in Gaza, upon which Israel has imposed a blockade for almost a decade.
The Israeli government controls everything that enters Gaza and controls its
waters, airspace, electromagnetic field and even population registry,
the densely populated strip that it officially
occupied until its 2005 withdrawal.

Israel meted out the largest yet surge of violence in its summer 2014
war on Gaza, known as
Protective Edge
. The Israeli military, which human right groups
accused of committing war crimes, killed more than 2,250 Palestinians, roughly
two-thirds of whom were civilians, including more than 550 children, according
to U.N. figures. On the other side, 66 Israeli soldiers were killed, along with
six civilians. 92 percent of the people killed by Palestinian militants were

Levy argued that, if the U.S. stopped giving billions in aid and
guaranteeing impunity for Israel at the United Nation, the occupation would end
within mere months.

If a president were committed to actually using punitive measure to
pressure Israel to end the occupation, it would end, he claimed. “Israel would
never be able to say no to a decisive president.”

He hence pressured Americans to take action against the occupation. “The
key is now in your hands, America,” Levy said. “The key is now in your hands,
activists, scholars.”

Rise of “fascism”
“The chances to change society from within Israel are so limited,” Levy

He is very critical of both the ruling right-wing Likud party and the centrist
Israeli Labor Party. He noted that “to be a leftist in Israel is a curse.”
Leftists in Israel are frequently called “traitors.”

In some of his columns, Levy has warned Israel is witnessing the rise of
fascism — and he does not use the term lightly. Other politicians have not been
so cautious. In 2012, right-wing Israeli lawmaker Miri Regev proudly
declared on a
TV interview that she is “happy to be a fascist.” Regev now serves as the
minister of culture in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right

During Israel’s summer 2014 war in Gaza, Levy received daily death
for criticizing the Israeli military’s actions, and
had to even hire a body guard to protect him. Israeli veterans have admitted
that they were ordered to kill Palestinian civilians in the war — and
killed Gazans
because they were bored

He said at the time that he saw the “first signs of fascism” in
Israel. Since then, Levy argues things have gotten even worse. The year 2015,
he wrote in a
“heralded the start of blatant and unapologetic Israeli fascism.”

Although the violent, overtly racist far-right is on the rise in Israel,
with fascistic groups like Lehava
chanting “death to Arabs” in
the streets and organizing anti-miscegenation squads, Levy argued this
extremism masks the violence that is normalized in mainstream politics, which
whitewashes the occupation and the Israeli government’s crimes against the

The mainstream “decides to cover its eyes to what is happening
in its own backyard,” he said. “And then the right-wingers can do whatever it

“You have your right-wingers and we have our right-wingers,”
Levy told the American audience, referencing the rise of the radical right in
the U.S., with presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

“I don’t know who is worse than who,” he joked.

Other speakers
Gideon Levy was
perhaps the highlight of the conference. Yet the prominent Haaretz columnist
was joined by a slew of distinguished speakers.

Among them was
journalist Rula Jebreal, who discussed Islamophobia, racism and sexism in the
media, and how this has helped fuel the rise of far-right demagogues like
Donald Trump.

Journalist Jim
Lobe, founder of the popular foreign policy website LobeLog, spoke of the
history of neoconservatism and the Iraq War, and the centrality of hard-line
pro-Israel politics within the American neoconservative movement.

Phil Weiss, the
founder and co-editor of progressive news outlet Mondoweiss, also detailed
pro-Israel bias in the U.S. media, and particularly in The New York Times.

novelist Susan Abulhawa spoke of an ongoing lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury
Department for allowing billions of dollars of tax-deductible so-called
“donations” to go from the U.S. to Israel in order to fund illegal settlements
on occupied Palestinian land.

Maria LaHood,
deputy legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, spoke of the
many ongoing attempts in the U.S. to silence criticism of the Israeli government,
particularly on college campuses.

Col. Larry
Wilkerson, the former chief of staff for George W. Bush-era Secretary of State
Colin Powell, also addressed the enormous influence of Israel in U.S. foreign
policy. In recent years, Wilkerson has become an outspoken critic of U.S.
foreign policy. Salon sat down with Col. Wilkerson for a lengthy interview,
which will be published separately.

Both C-SPAN and The
Real News filmed the speeches and panel discussion at the Israel’s Influence
conference, and have made the videos available online.

Legendary musician
Roger Waters, former leader of the band Pink Floyd, also attended the conference.
Waters, whom Levy called a great activist and friend, has established himself
as a leading voice in the international solidarity movement for Palestinian
human rights. In August, Levy published a lengthy profile
on Waters in Haaretz, describing the musician-activist’s views.

Waters declined an
interview with Salon.

activist Ralph Nader was also present. He declined an interview as well, but
briefly answered a few questions.

Nader blasted U.S.
policy on Israel-Palestine, arguing the American government has “pretty much
abandoned the peace process.” As for the Obama administration, he said it
appears to have lost interest in the issue; “they’re occupied with Syria, Iraq
and all the other battlefields.”

“Three regimes”
The Israel’s Influence conference came just days before the
annual policy conference of the most influential pro-Israel group, the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. All of the presidential candidates
excluding Bernie Sanders spoke at the conference. Sanders turned down the

Levy characterized AIPAC as an enemy to peace in the region.
He also harshly criticized U.S. policy in Israel-Palestine and the so-called
peace process.

“The chances for the two-state solution are totally gone,”
Levy said, referring to the decades-old proposal that Palestinians should have
an independent state.

“I believe that neither America or Israel ever wanted a
two-state solution,” Levy continued, arguing that “the two-state solution was a
trap” from the beginning.

What furthermore unites the U.S. with Israel, he argued, is
the widespread anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination in both countries.

“There are very few Israelis who perceive Palestinians as equal
human beings. Very, very few,” Levy said. “Most Israelis do not perceive
Palestinians as equal human beings.”

He said he reads the Israeli and U.S. media and “you can’t
believe how many lies can be spread so easily.” The prominent columnist blasted
the media, which he called “the biggest collaborator with the occupation.”

Thanks to this misreporting, Levy argued, “Israeli legislators
know nothing; Israeli young people know nothing.”

Journalists “get so much hatred” in Israel and the U.S. for
depicting “Palestinian children as human beings,” he explained. “This is a
crime in our country.”

The Israeli government, he said, “doesn’t treat them as
regular human beings.”

Levy articulated three different forms of government in
Israel: a democracy for Jewish citizens; a semi-democracy for Palestinian
citizens of Israel, who “are discriminated on any possible basis”; and an
“apartheid regime” in the occupied territories.

Israel, Levy noted, “may be the only country in the world not
only with no borders, but with three regimes.”

“Justice is very black and white”
Levy argued that Israel’s “addiction” to occupation is not
just dangerous to Palestinians; it is even dangerous to Israel’s own future.

“The first victims are obviously the Palestinians, and in many
ways the entire Middle East,” he said. “But the occupier, look what happens to
the occupier,” Levy continued, pointing to examples of the radicalization of
Israeli society.

In December, the Israeli government banned schools from teaching a book depicting an
interracial relationship, Levy recalled.

He also drew attention to Netanyahu’s infamous remarks on the
day of the March 2015 election, in which the hard-line right-wing prime
minister implored Jewish citizens of Israel to got out and vote because the
left was supposedly busing Arabs out for the election “in droves.”

Levy argued that frequently rehashed talking points about
Israel being the “only democracy in the Middle East” (Turkey and Lebanon are
both democracies, albeit very imperfect ones) give Israel “the right to do
whatever it wants to do.”

Levy also joked about Israel’s claims that it has  the
most moral army in the world. “Don’t you dare tell us we are the second-most
moral,” he quipped.

The prominent journalist said he can’t quite be hopeful, but
you never know what could happen. The Soviet Union unexpectedly collapsed in a
matter of months, he pointed out, and the same could happen with the

In the meantime, Levy stresses that the violence in
Israel-Palestine “is not a complicated conflict.” It is Israel that is
oppressing the Palestinians.

“Those who portray it as a very complicated situation don’t
want to find a solution,” Levy said.

He added, “Justice is very black and white today in
Israel-Palestine — very, very black and white.”